Retired Clackamas sheriff reflects on decades of service
As this turbulent year draws to a close, so does my four-decade career in law enforcement, including 16 years as your Clackamas County Sheriff.
As I leave office, handing the reins to incoming Sheriff Angie Brandenburg — your 33rd sheriff since William Livingston Holmes first took up the post in 1845 — I want to take a moment to thank the community I've served. We've accomplished so much together.
I was born and raised in Clackamas County, graduating from a wonderful small rural high school, Molalla High. My parents' education careers taught me the value of teamwork, being a good listener and constantly striving to improve through ongoing training. After a ride-along with a Sheriff's Office deputy — encouraged by my Boy Scout leader, who happened to be a Portland Police detective — I joined the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office as a reserve deputy in 1979. After I earned my college degree, I signed on as a patrol deputy here in 1983.
I've never served at another agency and I've never looked back. My career has been exciting, challenging, fulfilling, and yes, occasionally heartbreaking. I've enjoyed incredible opportunities to work in patrol, on SWAT and as a detective — undercover as a drug investigator and also face-to-face with the worst of humanity as I investigated homicides, child abuse and family violence. These troubling cases, combined with my time working with the CARES NW child-abuse assessment center, made a huge impression on me that would inform my later work as Sheriff.
So much has changed over those four decades. Even as late as January 2005, when I was first sworn in as Sheriff, our office was scattered across the county in a series of small buildings. Our office was approaching its 160th birthday then and we found ourselves presented with an incredible opportunity to improve as we embarked on a new century.
There were opportunities to consolidate the office, to create new trainings and to form special units to improve our service delivery — improving the efficiency of our operation and bringing us all closer together in our shared mission to help others.
Today, 16 years later, I look back with pride on a Sheriff's Office that we've transformed together. I can't list all our accomplishments here, but I can certainly name a few highlights.
Together, we consolidated much of the Sheriff's Office in a single building on Sunnybrook Boulevard. My goal for the office was that we live within our means, and we made this move without asking voters for bond money for the new building — we were fortunate to locate a long-vacated county building the county couldn't sell. We acquired what would become our Brooks Building, and I'm proud to report that bringing our employees under one roof has made us more efficient in our operations and communications.
Together, in 2006, we also passed (and renewed, in 2011 and 2016) a levy that re-opened jail beds long closed due to budget cuts, resulting in an immediate improvement in our day-to-day operations. Again, I'm proud to report we lived within our means, never asking for an increase in levy funds during its two renewals.
Together, we made a priority of fighting abuse in all its forms. This became something of a personal crusade after the horrifying abuse I'd investigated as a detective.
Today, the Sheriff's Office can draw on the resources of a Child Abuse Team, a Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team and an Adult Sex Crimes Unit. We also helped launch the Children's Center of Clackamas County child-abuse assessment center and Oregon's first Family Justice Center, A Safe Place, bringing multiple services together to simplify experiences for survivors. We founded a multi-agency task force in INTERCEPT to catch online predators who target children, as well as founding a world-class conference for professionals in our Child Abuse & Family Violence Summit.
That's not even counting our annual National Family Violence Apprehension Detail, a coordinated warrant sweep by law enforcement agencies across the country that has resulted in the arrests of tens of thousands of suspects with family violence-related warrants across the country.
Today, working together, we've brought abusers to justice and given survivors the tools they need to move on with their lives.
Together, we've also launched initiatives to help the Sheriff 's Office better meet the needs of individuals with mental illness. This includes our regular Crisis Intervention Team training, which prepares deputies for encounters with individuals in mental-health crises. It also includes our work with Clackamas County's Health, Housing and Human Services to create a Behavioral Health Unit (BHU). BHU's mental-health clinicians work alongside deputies and follow up with individuals who've had contact with law enforcement. Our goal is to get immediate mental-health services to those in the field who need it. It's made an enormous difference in the health of those who struggle with mental-health issues, while also increasing the safety of our community.
Together, during a raging opioid crisis, we've increased the Sheriff's Office focus on addiction treatment and recovery services.
Our Sheriff's Office is one of the few in the nation with an 84-bed drug and alcohol treatment program; our Clackamas Substance Abuse Program (CSAP) is up to 18 months long, followed by clean-and-sober living, with job placement and mentors from Bridges to Change that help clients on their journeys to sobriety. We're also the only Sheriff's Office in the state with a Transition Center — an award-winning facility that works with individuals released from jail who may be homeless or have addiction or mental-health needs. Our focus is helping these clients re-enter society with connection to appropriate services.
The goal of these group efforts is simple: getting participants back on track rather than sending them back to jail. This keeps our jail beds open for the worst offenders, which, again, keeps our community safer.
Together, we acquired two homes— one for women and one for men — to house those struggling with mental illness. Each home has a house manager who helps ensure clients take their medication, abide by house rules and move toward permanent housing.
You may also notice you don't see much graffiti in our county. That's in part because our Community Corrections clients give back by cleaning up graffiti daily. I take pride in how clean our county has remained.
Together, we've also navigated crises that made headlines. A few immediately come to mind.
During my years here, I've seen the tragic line-of-duty losses of Deputy Jimmy Shoop in 1981, Deputy Bill Bowman in 2000, Lake Oswego PD Chief Daniel Duncan in 2010, and Oregon City PD Officer Robert Libke in 2013. These fallen officers and deputies and others are memorialized at the Law Enforcement Memorial Plaza that opened at our Brooks Building headquarters in 2018. I worked here when Sgt. Damon Coates was shot during a domestic call in 2003 by a 15-year-old. I've watched Damon defy overwhelming odds just to survive and continue on his long road of recovery, supported by his incredible wife Tami. Today, Damon's name graces our boathouse and he's a welcome presence at Sheriff's Office events.
There was also the horrible afternoon of Dec. 11, 2012, when local agencies responded en masse to the active-shooter incident at Clackamas Town Center.
I also think of the many high-profile search-and-rescue operations we've coordinated with our volunteer partners, in locations ranging from the city to the wilderness to the top of Mt. Hood.
And of course, together we've faced the challenges of 2020.
We've been forced to work around the logistical challenges of a pandemic, and in September, the unprecedented wildfires that swept through our county. I'm so proud of our employees for the many ways they stepped up during the three-week wildfire crisis. Their work on the mass evacuations in and around Estacada, and on the enhanced patrols of evacuated areas was nothing short of extraordinary. This year has repeatedly served as a testament to our ability to step up and come together from every area of our office to make a difference.
There's so much more.
Together, we formed the award-winning Clackamas County Interagency Task Force to reduce illegal drugs and related crimes, including child endangerment.
Together, we've conducted detailed policy reviews (and policy rewrites) to earn accreditations for the Sheriff's Office and our Jail.
Together, we've enhanced our Professional Standards Unit to ensure employee accountability.
Together, using grant dollars (at no additional cost to voters), we've added a medical wing to our jail to meet the needs of our mentally ill inmate population, which comprises an increasing percentage of our overall jail population.
Together, we've lobbied for new benefits for employees who serve in the National Guard or Reserves.
Together, we developed a quality assurance program that ensures checks and balances in our service delivery.
Together, we've made significant inroads in Peer Support and other wellness initiatives for our employees.
Together, we've contributed to the statewide efforts on Oregon Task Force on School Safety and the SafeOregon tip line — efforts that have quite literally saved the lives of students in crisis.
None of this existed when I started here over 40 years ago. I leave the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office filled with pride — not for myself, but for an office that is demonstrably stronger and more comprehensive in its services than it's ever been, an office that is truly, continually improving.
I'm also filled with gratitude. I'm thankful to the sworn and non-sworn members of the Sheriff's Office who work tirelessly to keep you safe, and I'm thankful to the public for its support of the Sheriff's Office in innumerable ways — with your votes, but also with your repeated expressions of support for law enforcement in your community.
My motto during my tenure was "Working Together to Make a Difference." Re-reading the above, I can see that it was far more than a motto. It was an action plan, one that truly changed the fabric of our agency and of Clackamas County.
Sheriff Brandenburg is taking command of an incredible operation. I know the Sheriff's Office will only further its tradition of excellence under her leadership.
Craig Roberts served four terms as Clackamas County sheriff, taking office on Jan. 4, 2005. He officially retired on Dec. 31, 2020.
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